Saints 3 Airdrie 0 - League Table Here
Team : Main, Irvine, Byrne, Mooner, Rutkiewicz, Caff, Sammy,
Craig, Holmes, Savo, Sheerinho
Subs: McLean, Millar, Swankie, Hardie, Barrett
Today was almost a landmark for the season, as we turned up at McDiarmid to see how the boys would react psychologically (or given today's opposition, psychopathically) to last weekend's defeat to Meadowbank. With the lead down to a solitary point and Partick threatening to come up from behind (appropriate for the luvvies), it was time for the Saints players and supporters to stand up and be counted. Churchill, Caesar, Mel Gibson etc have all done the stirring speech ahead of the battle but today that had to be matched by Del as we entered the arena for the first of the eight cup-finals we had to play before May. Things probably weren't helped by the opposition as well with our record in the previous two encounters with Kenny Black's mob less than inspiring. The last game in particular had seen us throw away the points and settle for a draw at Broomfield with a typical Jekyll and Hyde performance that has been all too frequent this season.
Going into the game Airdrie had chalked up a decent result last weekend with a win over fellow basement strugglers Clyde, but their recent form has been patchy and with rows off the park as players showed faith in management by jumping ship for Dunfermline of all places, they hadn't had their troubles to seek. But even allowing for the differences in positions going into this, our inability to finish off teams and end games with all three points, meant that the travelling support turned up with more than a scrap of hope of taking something from the game. For Saints, there was the knowledge that Fissel were at home to the Scum tomorrow so something was likely to give there. The key for us though was to make sure that no matter the result on BBC Alba tomorrow, we were still going to be at the top of the tree ahead of the international break.
As a game it turned out to be a lot more one-sided than we thought as Saints romped home to a comfortable win only looking off the pace for the first ten minutes or so. Three good goals, three points in the bag and we go into the break four points clear (well at least until tomorrow). While the play wasn't the sexiest we've seen all season, we looked a lot better than in recent weeks with some lovely passing play and solid performances throughout the team. It's the sort of boost we needed ahead of the break and hopefully the winning mentality we can take into the big game in a fortnight. It was to be Chris Millar's last game before a spell in the naughty corner for the Partick game but he had to settle for a place on the bench. Collin Samuel's thighs were fit again and he started in place of Chris while Liam came in for Swankie. Even Mad Mental Martin was back in the squad as Garters and Peaso made way while the only other change was Homer starting in place of Barrett.
Before the game Del had been talking down the effects of the McDiarmid pitch and Chris had been on about us doing our talking on the park so there was some optimism that the Partick and Scum mind games would fade into the background and we'd see a return to the fighting fluid football that did for Clyde eleven days ago. Compared to last week's side that went down to Meadowbank, Del's starting eleven today saw three changes and a lineup with Sammy on the left wing while Liam and Sheerin were in the centre of midfield. Airdrie were almost at full strength with di Giacomo missing but thankfully Lovering was kept in his cage thus sparing the McDiarmid medical staff any major worries.
The worries about the pitch were well-founded and the McDiarmid playing surface looked only slightly better than a fortnight ago. The sun was shining and while the fans in the stand were subdued (a nice chant about the away support's Union Jack banner notwithstanding), the opening stages saw little real action. Irvine had a good first-minute cross which targeted Homer but he lost out to Robertson. Airdrie tried something similar at the other end a minute later but Main looked comfortable enough dealing with it. Our best chance came in the fifth minute when Irvine reacted well to block an attempted clearance and the ball deflected into the path of Homer but again Robertson came out to collect. A minute later though and it looked like the nightmare defending had returned. The defence with Caff and Byrne failed to clear their lines with the ball ending up with Sheerinho but his clearance was blocked and ended up with an unmarked Lynch on the edge of the box but he managed to only fire a shot straight into Main's arms - it was a bit of a let-off and acted as a wake-up call for Saints.
We began to put some pressure on the Airdrie goal, the next chance coming a couple of minutes later as Sammy went on a run turned and took the ball into the box but only ended up shooting over the bar when a pass to Savo might have been on the cards. Airdrie's response was nothing more than a couple of crosses but Caff and Ruti were well on top of things. Irvine set up the next move for us in the 11th minute as he floated over a great cross from the right for Homer but his attempt at getting his first header on target since 2001 ended up with the referee blowing for a foul on the keeper. But two minutes later the Saintees were well chuffed as a ball on the right was squared by the Airdrie defence only for Sammy to come, nick the ball, go round his man and fire a great low shot that just beat the keeper to end up in the bottom corner of the net.
One-nil up and as usual the change in the Saints side as the confidence returned to our play. Ruti had a header cleared at our first corner in the 15th minute but a minute after that Sheerinho showed loads of skill to play a perfect chip behind the Airdrie defence for Savo to run onto - unfortunately Robertson got out to clear the ball for a corner. Ruti saw a header blocked before Caff won another corner. That was half-cleared but Mooner (looking better and better as he gets more games under his belt) took the ball for a run and set up Savo who crossed for Homer but his header went wide and cleared. The chances kept coming though - Homer had another header cleared and Sheerinho saw a shot go a mile over the bar. With twenty minutes to go Sheerin linked well to set up Mooner but his effort went wide.
The game was fairly entertaining and while we were looking comfortable, Airdrie were still causing us some trouble especially through Smith on the right wing although Richie Byrne was having one of his best games for us. We were still creating plenty of chances though and easily looked the more likely to score. Mooner played a great through ball for Sammy and he played in a good shot that Robertson did well to block. Savo saw a long-range attempt go wide a minute later and then Sammy should have had a second in the 28th minute when Liam set him up and he let rip with an absolute rocket of a shot that Robertson only managed to block with his knee - an inch the other way he might not have stopped the ball. Airdrie had a chance on the half-hour mark with a freekick that Main went for but was blocked by Lynch - the pair clashed before the defence cleared the danger with the Airdrie striker looking for a penalty.
Back up the park and Savo had a good run before he was upended on the right touchline. The freekick into the box was well worked with everyone going out apart from a completely unmarked Caff at the back post but his header was tipped round the post by Robertson. We were starting to dominate the play and while Airdrie had the odd break, they rarely threatened. The Saints support's confidence was boosted further ten minutes from the break with some great play on the left as Byrne held the ball up until he found some space. He then went forward and played it through to Savo on the edge of the box who quickly laid it off for Sammy and he cut across the edge of the area before unleashing another perfect low drive into Robertson's bottom right hand corner to make it two -nil.
Game over (well that was the hope anyway) and we were able to relax. Airdrie's Smith was warned for a late foul on Liam a minute later but referee Winter decided to keep his cards in his pockets all afternoon. Irvine tried a cross for Byrne but again the ref decided there had been an infringement by the Saints player. Then Ruti took an accidental kick in the face but thankfully was able to resume after some treatment, just as well given we lacked a defender on the bench. The freekick from that was played long for Savo and he set up Homer for a weak shot that was easily blocked. And then a minute from the break another ball forward found Mooner who had a good run into the box before the keeper cleared although it looked like Mooner had been bundled to the deck - as usual no penalty for us.
Airdrie started the second period a bit better winning an early corner but that saw their no 8 play a perfect fresh-air shot allowing us to clear the danger. Then a few minutes later a poor clearance from defence ended up in a long-range rocket of a shot that may have been going wide but was tipped that way by Main to make sure. The corner was easily cleared but again I have to question the mentality of having all eleven players back defending the corner as too often we aren't able to mount any form of quick counter attack from these situations. It just seemed we were being a bit too defensive and cautious at the start of the half - and we were almost punished when Airdrie had the ball in the net five minutes after the restart but luckily it was chalked off for a close offside decision.
Gradually though we began to take the play back to the other end of the park and exert some pressure of our own. Robertson managed to do a Main and totally sclaff a clearance in the 55th minute but Homer was far too slow to react to the loose ball. Byrne had a good run into the Airdrie area a minute later but he was crowded out and then after Main held an Airdrie corner the ball was, for once, played quickly up the park for Savo who tried a looping first-time shot which Roberston held on the line. Sammy tried his luck from the edge of the box as he looked for a hat-trick but the keeper again got in the way. Savo and Sheerin tried their luck but saw their attempts blocked as Airdrie crowded their box. The ball broke to Byrne who saw his ball cleared before Ruti decided to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and went on a run into the box, playing a one-two before going wide and sending an excellent cross over - pity about the lack of blue shirts.
Del's first change came in the 64th minute as Swankie was brought on to replace Sammy. A minute later he was involved in some good link-up play with Mooner and Richie before the ball was sent over for Savo but his ball ended up going over the bar. Swankie set up a corner next but again it was cleared too easily and then Sheerinho and Irvine linked on the other side before the former crossed for Savo but again his shot failed to hit the target. By this time we were looking fairly comfortable. Craig had a freekick held in the 74th minute after a soft trip on Byrne. Mooner had a run into the box a minute later but again when he went to ground under a challenge the referee waived play on - at least Sheerinho was quick to react and we won a corner when his low cutback was put behind by Robertson. The set piece though was again wasted.
The majority of play was going Saints way though as we kept up the pressure but it seemed we were running into dead ends at times. Defensively we were solid and the midfield was looking as good as it has at any time during the season. Homer though was having a poor game and it was no surprise when he went off in the 78th minute as Graham Barrett was introduced to the play. Four minutes after coming on and as Saints, to their credit, kept chasing the game, Irvine set up Barrett with a good ball but that was just cleared from his feet. The big irony though was that after Homer went off it seemed we were intent on playing high balls forward. It still seemed there was more to come though and we looked certain to score five minutes from the end when Barrett was again put through on goal but he managed to shoot wide.
Airdrie countered with their final chance with a shot that targeted Tesco's instead of the goal. Two minutes from the end and Byrne put Liam through in the box where he was up-ended but again we didn't get the decision. That was the end of his participation as Mad Mental Martin made his return to the first team. We kept pressing to the end and finally got our rewards in injury time. The ball forward down the right for Savo saw him cut in and play in Barrett. He returned the ball to Savo and a low cutback across the six yard box was missed by the keeper but found Sheerinho who resisted the temptation to blast the ball home and instead settled for the cool-as-fuck tap- in to make it 3-0.
Plenty of applause for the players at the end of a thoroughly deserved win. The scoreline easily reflected our domination and while there were a couple of dodgy moments, when you look at Airdrie's keeper being their best player it shows how much we controlled the play. For Saints it's hard to pick a MoM. Nobody shirked their responsibility today and while not everyone was firing on all cylinders the effort and fighting spirit was there. I'll go for the veteran skills of Sheerinho though who rarely wasted a ball and got the simplest of goals at the death. Credit too to Mooner, Irvine, Byrne and Liam. And we did this on the less-than-perfect pitch so there are no excuses for dealing with Fissel in the same way when the luvvies come calling.
All in all, a good day's work.
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